Imagine for a minute that several important guests are coming over to your place for dinner on Saturday night. What would be happening in the lead-up to the dinner and after the guests arrived? Would you be tidying up, cleaning, shopping or doing food preparation? Would you be running around trying to organise the food and drink, make sure there is enough chairs and that the house looked nice?
And what about when everyone arrived? Would you all still be cooking, organising things and perhaps running around filling up people’s glasses and offering snacks?
I think if dinner was at my house, that’s what would be happening! Trying to get ready for special guests coming to visit usually needs everyone on deck.
There’s a story in the Bible (in Luke, Chapter 10) that describes a similar situation. In this case, Jesus and his disciples—around 13 people (or maybe more!)—went to stay at Martha and Mary’s place.
Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus were good friends of Jesus, and it seems that Martha was in charge of running the household.
As you can imagine, there would have been quite a bit to do to prepare food for that many people. Offering good hospitality was very important in the society Jesus lived in, so Martha would have wanted to do a good job. It was the job of the women to prepare the home and the meal for guests, so Martha was on to it. As for her sister, not so much. Mary was, instead, sitting with Jesus listening to him. This was not a usual thing for a woman to be doing back then.
I can imagine Martha running around, doing lots of things, getting more and more annoyed with her sister. Perhaps this also happens at your place when there are jobs to be done.
In this situation, Martha eventually gets SO annoyed that she goes to Jesus himself to appeal her case.
“Jesus – doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!!”
The answer Jesus gives her to this question is perhaps a little unexpected, certainly to Martha. He tells her that Mary made the better choice and he won’t be telling her to get up and help!
Let’s review for a minute what both sisters were doing.
Martha was running around trying to make sure everyone was looked after.
Mary was sitting with her guests, listening to what Jesus was saying.
Both of these are legitimate choices but, in this case, Jesus suggests that Mary made the better one.
I know when I have hosted an event and invited special people I care about over to my house, I have sometimes run around all over the place and got so busy taking care of all the details, that I have hardly spoken to the people I have invited.
I always feel sad about that, mainly because I invited them over because I wanted to spend time with them, and then I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to do this.
In our Bible story, Mary was taking full advantage of the opportunity to sit with her special guest, Jesus, listen to him and learn from him. She’s not half listening while doing something else; she is sitting, giving him her full attention. How wonderful for them both.
Jesus happens to have the advantage of knowing what is ahead for him too, and he knows he won’t be around for too much longer. So I think he encourages Mary’s choice because he knows it’s important to make the most of the opportunities we have to connect with people we care about—to learn from them, to be present and attentive, to be mindful.
Mindfulness is a word that I’m sure you’ve heard a few times. One author I was reading recently said, “It is the latest big thing that has actually been around for thousands of years!”
Mindfulness is about slowing down, about noticing what is happening right in front of you instead of worrying about the past or the future. This can really open you up to beauty and gift of each moment.
There has been considerable research done on mindfulness. It seems that practising mindfulness can improve memory, brain function, decision making, sleep, mood, your ability to handle stress. And is therefore an important ingredient in living a good and happy life! So why aren’t we all doing it?
And how do we train ourselves to do it when, for many of us, our minds do not have a good attention span and we find ourselves easily distracted.
There are many small changes we can make in our lives—for example with technology, which is one of our major distractors. One change we can make is to switch off all notifications on our devices and check things perhaps at three set times each day. But one of the best ways to train our minds to practise mindfulness is to regularly set aside a time each day to meditate.
This may be something you already practise, but if not, perhaps you might like to try it. There are lots of websites, books and apps where you can find guided meditations and mindfulness exercises which you can check out (see below for one idea on how to meditate). Like anything, it takes practice to meditate and train our minds. But it is definitely worth it!
May we all seek to become more mindful, following the example of Mary and, in doing so, bring great benefit to our own wellbeing and to our relationships with others.
HOW TO MEDITATE
Here is one way you could meditate, which is the way recommended by the World Community for Christian Meditation. https://wccm.org/meditate/how-to-meditate/
Sit down. Sit still with your back straight. Close your eyes lightly. Then silently begin to recite a single word—a prayer word or mantra. We recommend the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”. Say it as four equal syllables. Breathe normally and give your full attention to the word as you say it, silently, gently, faithfully and—above all—simply.
The essence of meditation is simplicity. Stay with the same word during the whole meditation and in each meditation day to day. Don’t visualise, but listen to the word as you say it. Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and other words. Don’t fight your distractions: let them go by saying your word faithfully, gently and attentively, returning to it as soon as you realise you have stopped saying or it or when your attention wanders.
Build up your practice until you aim to meditate twice a day, morning and evening, for between 20 and 30 minutes. It may take a time to develop this discipline, and the support of a tradition and community is always helpful.
Rev Liz Flanigan